My parents’ bed (officially deemed my mother’s bed) was the hub of importance in our family’s house. It was her Central Command and our Grand Central Station. I spent much of my growing up years at the foot of my mother’s king-sized bed.
Layered with floral permanent-press sheets and a beige thermo-blanket, and at least four over-stuffed pillows, she was royally propped up so she could clearly see the television in front of her one foot beyond her bed. This was not just my childhood or even young adult perception.
My mother’s favorite statement was: “This [her bed] is my favorite piece of furniture.” And she had everything within her grasp. A box of See’s chocolates; a button to turn the television on and off, which my father rigged to save her from having to get out of bed, long before there was such a luxury as a remote control.
Kleenex, chewing gum, hard candies, Vicks-vapor rub (for all stuffy noses); a brown paper bag used as a garbage bag, strategically taped next to the movable hospital-like table that allowed her to eat in bed on days when she really was ill and not just exhausted.
Next to her bed was the beloved green goose-down cushioned club chair with matching ottoman, often manned by my beloved maternal grandmother, Nana Bea, who was second in command, even when my father returned home from work.
I often vied for my mother’s attention over a soap opera or the latest Danielle Steele novel. I was a chubby 12-year-old singing “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things” to entertain my mother as she rested. She smiled, but soon her black eyes slowly faded toward the pages of her hardcover book supported on her rounded belly.
When she requested a foot massage, I had her somewhat undivided attention while closing her eyes in the euphoria of joy. I slathered the Saks Fifth Ave pink lotion over her callused, corn-ridden feet and her hairless, soft, slim legs. Rarely did my mother want me to stop, and at these times, I provided a service for her that neither my workaholic father nor older, out-of-the-house brother could give her. Almost daily, my loving foot massages created the eternal hope that my mother would love me the most.
When I wanted to talk about boyfriends or my girlfriends, or high school gossip, Mom listened readily with her common sense support. Before a big biology test, she quizzed me on the bones of the body with my flashcards, always with patience and pride.
Even an occasional Monopoly game or card game of War occurred on top of her bed. I adjusted my life for many prone activities, which all became normal with a level of warmth and comfort enveloping me as I lay on top of her bed.
From her king-sized bed, she directed the dinner that she had started preparing earlier in the day, often completed by mid-morning, before exhaustion set in. “Barbara, turn the soup on, simmer. Check the chicken and baste it. Set the table. Empty the dishwasher.”
Her wish was mostly my command, and I did most everything readily, for, from an early age, I wanted so much to help her, to ease whatever invisible pain gnawed at her from within.
Even as a young girl, I sensed her struggle to make it through her days with a lightness that eluded her despite the outward ease of her lifestyle: not wealthy but comfortable in terms of earthly possessions and money in the bank without ever choosing to work a day in her life. I always wondered if she realized that most people never had such a choice.
Before I could articulate my life’s choices, I knew I never wanted to spend my days in bed. Beds were for sleeping which only happened at night. I had no use for this piece of furniture once my day began. Every morning, I folded my sheets, covering them with my quilted bread spread, as if I had to cover any enticement to rest even when needed.
Even today, even if I am ill, I find a couch instead of a bed. I made a choice to work and raise three children despite my mother questioning my decision. (“Why do you want a career?” she asked me more than once.) Much of my self-identity was tied up in the realization that I could make my own money; contribute to my own family, and find time to volunteer as a means to feel worthy and have a life of purpose.
Although I carved out a life that was quite different from the female role model who raised me, many of my warm, comforting memories include my mother so cozily lying beneath the sheets, on her electric heating pad, in her king-sized bed.
The author and her mother, 2007